Peace with God (Luke 2)

How do you normally get peace? How is conflict resolved.  When there is war, I would suggest that there are three main ways.

First of all, when the stronger party completely crushes the other side so that no further resistance is possible.

Secondly when the two sides reach a compromise, usually mediated by a third party -a peace broker.

Thirdly, when the weaker side realise that they are going to lose and so surrender and seek peace terms.

In personal relationships, we expect the party in the wrong to make the first move, to come and say sorry, to do something to make up for the hurt caused. They may even bring a gift as a “peace offering.”

I was thinking about these things as we come to Christmas Day and the question of Peace with God.  How do we find peace with God? There’s no third party to broker a truce based on compromise. So, that leaves us with options where either the weaker party and those in the wrong give in and try to make amends or God will use his overpowering strength to defeat and utterly destroy his enemies.

If this is the case, then that’s bad news for us. It’s bad news because the Bible tells us that we are God’s enemies. As we’ve seen over recent weeks, the root cause of our messy, hurting, peace-less world is human sin and rebellion against God.

Sin means that we try to live as though God does not exist or as though he isn’t completely in control. We think there are spaces and times when we can do what we want.  Even when we live morally upright lives we can hold back part of our minds and hearts to entertain wrong thoughts -pride, lust, bitterness.

Sin means that we act as though we don’t need God. When we try to fix our own problems, when we choose religious duties -good deeds, attending services etc. and think that by keeping these things we can be okay and earn God’s love and forgiveness, then we are saying we don’t need God. We are choosing to do things our way not his.

And that’s what we as a human race have done, collectively and individually. That’s why our world is in a mess, that’s why each of us deep down is restless knowing that things are not right with God. We are alienated from him.

That’s why Christmas is good news and surprising news.  You see, all those people who read their Scriptures waiting for the Messiah may well have got the idea that God was going to deal with his enemies, to defeat and destroy evil but if we are on the side of evil, if we are God’s enemies then that’s not good news for us.

If God is simply the one who is great, invincible, all powerful, infinite, eternal, almighty then our situation is hopeless.

But that’s not the story of Christmas.

A baby has been born. Shepherds are up on the hillside, keeping watch over their sheep.  There’s an incredible bright light. An angel appears. He announces good news, the baby is God’s saviour, God’s deliverer, God’s Messiah King. Then other angels appear, singing and declaring

“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

I want you to notice two very important things.

  1. It is God who brings Peace

I am sometimes told that because I believe God is sovereign and all powerful then if this God makes the rules, decides right from wrong, judges the earth etc. then I must believe in “Might is right.” Well there’s so much logically wrong in that claim that I’m never quite sure where the best place to start in responding is.

However, this looks like a great place to start. You see, here is what is described as an army. The host or army of heaven. These are God’s foot soldiers. If you’ve seen the scenes from Independence Day or War of the World where a mighty and impressive force appears in the sky ready to obliterate planet earth, then you will get the sense of the awe and terror that such an appearance is tailor made to produce.

Heaven shows up in strength. If this army comes to judge, defeat and destroy, then earth lies powerless in its face. If God is all and only about might and strength then it ends here.

But this army has come to sing and not a war song but a song of peace, good news, hope.

Earlier I said that the weaker party usually has to surrender and sue for peace but it is God who comes from the position of strength and offers peace.

  1. His peace treaty declares us favoured.

It is peace for specific people for those who God is pleased with or to whom he shows his goodwill and favour. Now we still have a problem here. You see our sin means that God should not be pleased with us.

I wonder if that thought went through the shepherds’ minds -even for a second. Shepherds were generally looked down on. They were at best the butt of jokes and at worst mistrusted.  Yet it was here in the fields to shepherds, not in temples and synagogues that God’s messenger was speaking.

You see, something that wasn’t fully revealed at this point but was going to become so obvious to those who had ears to listen to Jesus was that God in Jesus was choosing to favour those who did not deserve his favour or pleasure.

Later the apostle Paul would write

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”[1]

And in another place

“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace[a] with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”[2]

In fact, Paul goes on in that passage in Romans 5 to show how peace and reconciliation with God is completely his work that he initiated when we were still sinners, when we were still in rebellion against him.

You know, there are lots of fantastic traditions and stories around Christmas. The tradition of Santa Claus bringing gifts is rooted in the old story of St Nicholas giving gifts to the poor.  Now, this may be something fun for the kids but actually Santa Claus is limited. Each year we tell children that if they want Santa to visit then they need to be on his good list.

Well for those of us who know that we never would make it onto Santa’s good list, there is good news. Jesus is much better than Santa. The gift of peace with God is offered freely and undeserved. He comes specifically for those who could never make it onto the good list.

What does this mean for us?

What should we do with God’s offer of peace this Christmas?

Accept it

First of all, it means that if you haven’t yet put your trust in Jesus, if you are still trying to live for yourself or to sort your own mess, then it is time to put your life into his hands, to accept his offer of peace, to receive his forgiveness and be reconciled to God, knowing his presence in your life through the Holy Spirit.

Learn to enjoy it and live in it

For those of us who have already put our trust in Jesus, Christmas is a great reminder that our salvation is all his work.  It is so easy to slip into a wrong attitude, to act as though we have been given a second chance but that it is really up to us to try harder and do better. Theologically, intellectually we know that it is grace but often we end up living by works.

We started this year by talking about the risk of being guilt driven. When we do that we fall into the trap of either giving up completely on living godly lives (licence), hoping superstitiously that a special experience will change us (magic) or trying to keep on the right side of God and (more often than not) each other by being religious.

Christmas brings us back to grace.  It humbles us, it calls us away from boasting or trusting in our own abilities.  You know, it doesn’t matter how important, hard working or rich you are, gifts bring us all to the same level. No-one can pay for a gift, no-one can by their own efforts make the gift better or worse. We are all at the same level, simply receiving and simply enjoying.

Share it

What did you get for Christmas? Some delicious chocolates to eat? Some extremely smelly bath products from Lush or Body Shop, books to read, DVDs to watch? Some presents allow you to indulge yourself. Maybe you got give things like games. This was a particular theme at our family get together, card games, penguin balancing games, the old classic, Monopoly.  These are presents to enjoy together.

God’s gift of peace is one to enjoy with others -with him as re respond in adoration and with each other. The angels message was for many, not just a few shepherds. Throughout history, whenever people have heard the good news of peace with God, their natural response has been to go and tell others: friends, neighbours, relatives and across cultures and around the world, sharing the good news with complete strangers and once deadly enemies.

If we have received the greatest gift, we too should be ready and willing to share it with others.

[1] Ephesians 2:8

[2] Romans 5:1